The Ramkat gives back, looks to Triad for partnerships
By: Jon Epstein
Operating a concert club is not the same thing as operating a bar and can only be a labor of love. With long hours, slim profit margins, dealing with countless fevered egos, requests, suggestions and half-baked promises, it can’t be anything else. For The Ramkat, which is being touted as the best bet for the future of the Winston-Salem music scene, these pressures can be immense.
The Ramkat, which has a capacity of over 1,000, occupies the space formerly known as Ziggy’s at the corner of Ninth and Trade Streets in downtown. This location is at the Northernmost boundary of the city’s Arts District and marks a vital step towards the creation of a truly world class revitalization of North Carolina’s “City of Arts and Innovation.” It is hard to recall another project that has held so much promise or carried more expectations, both realistic and unrealistic, than The Ramkat. Fortunately, Winston-Salem’s newest music venue is in very capable hands.
Co-owner Richard Emmett has a long history as one of the individuals that became central to the revitalization of the Twin City’s arts community, both as the former CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and as the owner of what was once the premier music club The Garage. Under his guidance, the Arts Council served as the nexus point for the truly eclectic Camel City arts community and was instrumental in the creation of a staggering number of community-based arts initiatives that quickly proved to be the model for other Arts Councils nationwide. Co-owner Andy Tennille served as curator for the More Barn Concert Series at Reynolda Village and The Crossroads at SECCA concert series before joining forces with Emmett to open The Ramkat. Given their backgrounds in the community, it is no surprise that they both see community involvement as the key to The Ramkat’s success.
“Ramkat is obviously a very large venue,” Emmett recently told me, “and we are counting the Triad community to recognize the potential it has and to partner with us in major, city-wide events.” These events, he said, do not necessarily need to be music related. A position that is reinforced by recent Yoga classes held at the venue, an upcoming artist open house and the upcoming Food for Thought with Helen Simoneau Danse, a dance project that brings together a diverse group of artists to raise awareness of food insecurity and donations for the Second Harvest Food Bank. (To sweeten the deal, Whole Foods has agreed to match all donations made to the food bank raised during the performance on March 22.)
By all indications, the venue is off to a stellar start. Its first concert on March 9, The Vagabond Saint Society play Queen, saw a crowd lining up around the block from Ninth to Trade to attend the event, even as crews inside worked double time to complete the last minute preparations for the club’s opening. The following evening, the club hosted the annual Cash Bash (so named in honor of Johnny Cash), which drew hundreds of music fans and resulted in one of the most talked about events of the year.
Also partnering with The Ramkat is Tucker Tharpe, former owner of The Garage, who has retooled his business as a promotion and production company in order to carry on his unmistaken knack for finding, presenting, and nurturing up-and-coming bands. Also, helping to maintain a truly dynamic music community. The first show presented by The Garage on March 16 included The Genuine; I, Anomaly; Scrub Pine; and Companyon. It was by any measure a success and points toward a long and vibrant partnership.
Because of its size, and more importantly its height (well over two stories making the room somewhat of a cavern) The Ramkat has the potential to receive more of the same criticism that Ziggy’s endured regarding poor sound quality. Emmett and Tennille, however, took these criticisms into account while refurnishing and refitting the club. By partnering with SES sound, the club is now home to what is undoubtedly the finest house PA in the Triad, a system that is more than capable of dealing with the rooms idiosyncrasies. Additionally, baffling has been added to the interior walls in order to minimize the bounce and echo that seemed to plague Ziggy’s.
Like any other large venue, the success of The Ramkat will largely depend on booking national traveling acts in addition to the support of the local community. The Ramkat will be hosting an artist reception at 6 p.m. on March 24, followed by a free concert at 8 p.m. featuring Wafer Thin, Punk Floyd and Band II.
Dr. Jon Epstein is a writer, artist, and musician living in Winston-Salem.